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Healing From Childhood Sexual Abuse When You Can't Remember What Happened

childhood sexual abuse stats

The memories of childhood sexual abuse can feel maddeningly elusive. Somehow, you sense something profoundly wrong happened to you, but the details remain stubbornly out of reach. The more you try to uncover the truth, the more it seems to slip away.

This can make you feel confused, full of self doubt and inherently ashamed that you are 'imagining things.'

But there is hope. By understanding the deep neurobiological impacts of childhood sexual abuse, and by embracing my unique healing approach that works directly with the body's somatic memories, you can begin to unravel the mystery and reclaim the narrative of your life. Your truth, though elusive, is not beyond your reach.

Why Does Your Brain Suppress Memories of Childhood Sexual Abuse?

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, you may have struggled to access clear, coherent memories of the traumatic events you endured. Perhaps you're not even certain that something did happen but you keep getting this strange feeling or symptoms.

This elusiveness of your own history can be incredibly frustrating and isolating. Why does your brain seem to actively resist recalling such formative experiences?

The answer lies in the neurobiological mechanisms your brain employs to protect you from overwhelming trauma. When confronted with abuse, particularly during the vulnerable developmental stages of childhood, your brain triggers a dissociative response. This involves a disconnect between the cognitive, emotional, and sensory regions - a way of psychologically distancing yourself from the pain.

This dissociation disrupts the normal processes of memory encoding, consolidation, and retrieval. The sensory details, emotions, and context of the abuse become fragmented, suppressed, or stored in a way that makes them incredibly difficult to access through conscious recall. Your brain, in essence, buries these memories as a means of survival. While an adaptive response in the moment, this neurological shielding can leave you feeling disconnected from your own history as an adult.

Processing Body Sensation to Recall Memories of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Notice from the diagram above, the initial input of traumatic events is primarily sensory - the touch, sights, sounds, smells, and bodily sensations that you experienced during the abuse. This raw, embodied information gets encoded into your brain's neural networks. What makes it tricky is that sensory memories are distinct from the kind of narrative, autobiographical memories we typically trust and rely on.

Sensory memories exist in a different neurological realm, stored more in the subcortical regions of the brain rather than the frontal lobes responsible for conscious recollection. This is why survivors often report feelings, physical sensations, or fragmented images rather than a clear, chronological narrative when accessing memories of abuse.

The dissociation and numbing that commonly arise as protective responses to trauma can severely disrupt this sensory encoding process. If the brain cannot fully register and integrate the tactile, visceral experiences of the abuse, it leaves the survivor disconnected from the somatic reality of what happened.

This is where deep somatic and energetic integration in my unique healing approach becomes so essential for trauma recovery. By gradually reconnecting you to the sensations, impulses, and energy flows in your physical body, these modalities can help rebuild the crucial link between your embodied experiences and your conscious awareness.

As you re-establish this somatic connection, safety and trust, you begin to access those fragmented memories in a way that allows for a more coherent narrative to emerge.

The traumatic experiences can then be processed, contextualized, and integrated into your autobiographical memory in a way that restores a sense of personal history and self-understanding. With patience and the right therapeutic support, you can reclaim ownership over the memories that have for so long felt foreign or inaccessible. Please reach out to me if you are ready to heal.

How Your Brain Blocks Memories of Childhood Sexual Abuse

Childhood sexual abuse can have lasting impact on your brain and your ability to learn, regulate your emotions and connect with other people at a deep level.

Research using functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) has shed light on the neurological mechanisms underlying dissociation in survivors of childhood sexual abuse. One study found that dissociation was associated with altered functional connectivity between brain regions involved in emotion regulation and attentional control (Lanius et al., 2010). This suggests that dissociation may be an adaptive response to the overwhelming trauma, allowing the survivor to psychologically distance themselves from the abuse.

Importantly, the degree of dissociation experienced by survivors has been linked to the severity of the abuse. The more severe and prolonged the trauma, the more pronounced the disruptions in normal brain functioning and connectivity (Lanius et al., 2010).

Factors That Make It Harder To Recall Childhood Sexual Abuse

There are many factors that could be contributing to the suppression and distortion of your memory.

  • Your age at the time of abuse: The age you were during the abusive events can affect the degree to which your memories are suppressed. Younger children often have more difficulty forming coherent memories of the abuse.

  • Your current emotional state: Your emotional states can influence your memory retrieval. Emotionally charged events tend to be better remembered when you are feeling safe and calm. However, if you are emotionally overwhelmed, it will be harder for you to remember what happened in your early childhood. This is how your body and brain is protecting you from further overwhelm.

  • Your somatic attention and nervous system regulation: Attention plays a critical role in memory formation. Traumatic events can make it difficult for you to fully attend to and encode the experience, impairing your ability to access those memories later on.

  • The context in which the abuse was taking place: The context in which a memory is formed can affect its retrieval. If your abuse took place in the family home, and you still currently live there, it is much harder for memories to come up because your environment is too similar. At the same time, you will constantly re-triggered in other ways, because of this same reason.

  • Your age: As you age, your ability to retrieve memories can decline. Compared to younger individuals, older adults often report more difficulty accessing and recalling specific details from their childhood experiences. The passage of time, combined with the natural aging process, can make those early memories feel more distant and harder to grasp.

  • Subsequent trauma you've been through as an adult: Traumatic events can disrupt your body connection and memory processes, making it challenging for you, as a survivor, to retrieve childhood memories related to the traumatic experience. Layered trauma that has built up in your nervous system needs to be released and unwound through a gradual but consistent process. This is the work I do with my clients in 1-1 transformation journeys. Please reach out if you are ready to heal.

  • Your sleep patterns: Sleep plays a crucial role in memory consolidation and retrieval. Insomnia and waking up in the middle of the night, as well as night paralysis and terrors are common. When you're not getting sufficient, high-quality sleep, your brain doesn't have the chance to fully process and integrate those early memories. This can make it exponentially more difficult for you to later access and recall the details of the abuse you experienced as a child. The lack of healthy, restorative sleep combined with the traumatic nature of the memories can create a vicious cycle, where the disrupted sleep further compounds the challenges you face in piecing together your past. Addressing and improving your sleep patterns can be an important step in facilitating the memory retrieval process during your healing journey.

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Flashbacks vs Memories of Childhood Sexual Abuse

As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, you may be all too familiar with the jarring experience of a flashback. These sudden, vivid recollections of the traumatic events you endured can feel like being transported back in time, your senses overwhelmed by the sights, sounds, and sensations that defined your abuse. Rather than a distant memory, the trauma resurfaces with a startling immediacy, making it difficult to distinguish past from present.

Flashbacks are a common neurobiological response to severe, repeated trauma, and they often arise from the most unexpected triggers. Perhaps the smell of a certain cologne instantly transports you back to your abuser's embrace. Or the creak of a door evokes the dread you felt as a child, your body tensing with the same helpless panic. These sensory cues become inextricably linked to the fragmented, subcortical memories your brain has stored away as a means of survival. When reactivated, they thrust you back into the embodied experience of the abuse, leaving you feeling invaded and unsafe in the here and now.

Unlike typical autobiographical memories, flashbacks do not involve the conscious recall of a past event. Instead, they emanate from the primal, emotional regions of the brain that initially encoded the trauma. This disconnect between cognitive and sensory memory is what makes flashbacks feel so disorienting and uncontrollable. But with the support of trauma-informed therapists, you can learn to navigate these overwhelming experiences, gradually restoring your sense of safety and regaining agency over your own history.

How I Support My Clients to Heal Childhood Sexual Trauma When there is No Memory

When there's no specific memory, just sensations in the body or imprints in the energy field that give rise to an impression of sexual abuse it can be confusing and make you doubt yourself ALOT. It's very normal to think you're inventing things or making it up, or to shame yourself for the fact it's even crossing your mind.

I have developed a specific approach to support my clients to heal that has helped thousands of people around the world.

The key to this approach is to start deepening interoception, i.e your ability to feel and interpret the sensations held in your nervous system, womb and genitals. The sensations are vibrational patterns that carry information. I help you to make sense of these patterns of information and piece them together rapidly, so that you can get a crystal clear picture (including seeing, feeling, knowing) of what happened and who was involved. When I do this work with my clients there is no doubt as to what has happened to them, they learn to trust their somatic memory as we deepen the process of healing and connecting to the body. This is a powerful journey that helps them to trust their body again, particularly where they have been dissociated and shut out from it because of the pain and fear it was holding.

This work requires first, structural integration of the spine and organs, particularly the kidneys, adrenals and the gut. That's because these organs hold alot of unprocessed emotions and stress and we need to get beneath the surface level patterns and stresses of adult life to go deeper into the child's nervous system.

Where the child's nervous system has been dissociated and is split, it will still vibrate in the field. This is why survivors of CSA often experience projection, because they cannot easily feel their own pain but it is being felt in other indirect ways and by those around them, usually their partners and children.

By reintegrating the inner child's nervous system the clarity around the abusive incidents is allowed to come through into the consciousness of the person. Because the organs have been cleared and the structure (spine, brain) has been aligned, the body can hold the awareness more safely and therefore doesn't have to dissociate. This is because the nervous system is more grounded and the energy field is more still. The heart is available to process the pain of what happened.

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Take the Next Steps In Your Healing Journey

If you're not sure what happened or whether you've been abused, please read my blog post Signs that your body is holding unconscious childhood sexual abuse. Reclaim Your Power in my Online Course on Healing Childhood Sexual Abuse If you're not sure where to start, whether you actually were sexually abused and need help to understand what this journey of healing looks and feels like, book my 2 month online course. You can find the full course content here .

Go Deeper & Heal: Book a 1:1 Life Changing Healing Journey to Overcome Childhood Sexual Abuse

The journey of recovering from childhood sexual abuse can feel daunting, but you don't have to walk it alone. Book a 1:1 Healing Transformation Program and join thousands of other adults that I've supported to heal and move forward after childhood sexual abuse. Let's talk.


As always, if you're ready to start healing reach out to me

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